• Greyhound Prohibition Bill 2016 second reading debate speech

    The Animal Justice Party overwhelmingly supports the Greyhound Racing Prohibition Bill 2016. Last year I was asked to assist with developing a strategy after unfortunate evidence was gathered over several months in relation to live baiting. The training of greyhounds routinely involves a great deal of live baiting. Many trainers would arrive at a training track with various species—rabbits, possums, cats and piglets. One particular scene has haunted me ever since. It was not a one-off incident; it is systemic, it is part of the industry, it is the norm and it is integral to the industry. In broad daylight a possum, which is a nocturnal animal, was strapped to a lure. A cloth was placed over its shoulders and it was strapped down firmly by its lower legs. The only part of its body it could move was its tail. Owners paid $50 to train their dogs using that live bait.

    The lure was set off, with engines roaring, screaming and vibrating. This nocturnal animal was sped around the track. When it was stopped, the dogs were allowed to tear and rip at it. It then came back around to the start. The possum was kicked around and hit to see whether it was conscious. If it was still alive it was sent around again with other dogs. A possum that came back conscious would emit a very high-pitched squeal—as do kittens, piglets and rabbits, believe it or not, when suffering and in enormous distress. The possum to which I refer went around the track 23 times, and it was still conscious. If the owner of the dog was satisfied with the live baiting episode and the possum was still alive he could have his $50 refunded because the animal could be used for the next dog. The possum would be left there to die a long, lingering death—the police described it as torture.

    Justice McHugh subpoenaed 10 trainers to give evidence to the inquiry. Nine of them said—they could have lied but they did not—that they used live baiting to various degrees, and one refused to answer the question but certainly did not deny it. Therein lies the savagery of the greyhound industry. It is not a minority of trainers; it is not a one-off incident. Nine out of 10 trainers admitted to live baiting and that means the industry cannot save itself from itself.

    No regulator can save it from itself. The Government has rightfully decided that no government can save the industry from itself. That is why the Animal Justice Party and I personally overwhelming support the Baird Government in taking this historic, principled and ethical decision.

    The greyhound industry has a long history both here and afar. It is a history built on animal cruelty that traces the “sport” from the traditions of the elite and royalty to the “battlers’ sport” that it is portrayed as today. Its long history is important as it coincides with the dynamic shift of social and community expectation regarding our relationships with animals. It is clear that the industry has formulated its own demise, no doubt carrying innocent casualties with it of both the human and non-human kind. The industry and its core participants have ignored society’s shift regarding animals and their treatment. The shift places high expectations of those seeking to profit from animals and transcends political persuasions and socio-economic backgrounds. To pigeonhole love for animals as elitist and snobbery is an insult to working class everyday people, many of whom will take in a rescued greyhound as owners seek to dispose of them in the coming months when they no longer bring in revenue.

    It has been a widely known secret that the greyhound industry has systemic animal welfare issues. It is critical to note that those issues are systemic, not rare or in the minority. Stories of live baiting, mass graves, greyhound muscle men and over breeding have been common for a very long time. There has been a great deal of evidence about greyhound muscle men, which I will explain. When a greyhound has an injury it is very rarely taken to a vet or has a vet called for it. Instead, a decision is made to immediately breach a section of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act that says it is an offence to fail to provide veterinary treatment. A greyhound muscle man is called in. People who have been in the industry have given clear descriptions of what muscle men do. If a dog has gathered a serious injury while racing and cannot perform the muscle men will try various practices. One of them is to strap the front two legs of a dog to a high tree branch and then stretch the bottom two legs to try to rectify the injury. No analgesia or pain relief is given while the muscle men do the job. That practice is systemic in the industry.

    In my previous job I was privy to a large amount of evidence but not enough to bring about prosecutions at the level required. It was only in early 2015 that the evidence exposed in the Four Corners broadcast “Making A Killing” that I unfortunately witnessed as I assisted in obtaining that evidence for the program and the police. The exposé documented what has been spoken about a great deal today. The important thing is the program was the catalyst for the establishment of the commission of inquiry. It utilised covert video footage of the most appalling cruelty and suffering obtained by animal activists—those passionate everyday people exposing acts which the government, authorities and the industry could not or would not investigate and rectify. This is a testament to the everyday people who seek to right the wrongs of this world, which include those committed to voiceless animals beholden to our care that have suffered at the hands of callous people who knowingly committed illegal activity day in and day out.

    Thanks to the Government and the commission of inquiry led by Michael McHugh the public and the lawmakers of this State—and, indeed, across the globe—have had the truth revealed to them. I repeat that it is truth. The facts contained in the report by a conservative and esteemed former judge are not fictional or delusional. The bare facts as revealed by the McHugh report are that this industry has implicitly condoned as well as caused the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of healthy greyhounds, engaged in the barbaric practice of live baiting, and caused and will continue to cause injuries to greyhounds that range from minor to catastrophic. An enormous amount of catastrophic injuries will occur as a direct consequence of the genetic musculoskeletal structure of the animal as well as the race. Those things are fundamental to the industry and cannot be turned around. They are part of the industry and cannot be changed; however, they are unacceptable.

    The McHugh report also found that the industry has deceived the community concerning the extent of injuries and deaths caused during race meetings and it has failed to demonstrate that in the future it will be able to reduce the deaths of healthy greyhounds to levels the community could tolerate. I am sure many in the House will debate the finer points of the economics, jobs and the complexities that come with making such a tough but brave and just decision to shut down an industry. As a member of the Animal Justice Party I will discuss a few other aspects of this industry.

    The greyhound racing industry likes to claim that greyhounds are an ancient breed of racing dog going back to biblical days, with thousands of year of adaptation. Modern genetic testing shows differently. In fact, greyhounds are descended from herding dogs such as the St Bernard and the wolfhound, hardly known for their light frames or speed. The selection process is relatively recent, being only a few hundred years old. Breeding selection intensified with the commercialisation of the industry, placing considerable pressures on the greyhound’s musculoskeletal structure. Modern greyhounds have been bred for larger muscle mass, lower body fat and a higher overall muscle-to-bone ratio than other canine breeds. This intensive breeding selection has resulted in significant animal welfare issues for a large numbers of animals.

    Greyhounds have been shown to suffer from osteochondrosis dissecans, a genetic predisposition causing growth plate fracture in young dogs and hock joint fractures in adult dogs. Hock joint fractures are extremely common injuries experienced during racing. Injuries to the carpal and tarsal joints are also common in racing greyhounds, resulting in an increased risk of osteoarthritis and potential long-term lameness. Risk factors cited are heredity, rapid growth, anatomic conformation, trauma and dietary imbalances. Of these, heredity and conformation have been scientifically supported.

    The fact is and always will be that in order for the industry to exist greyhounds must be bred in excess to replace the dogs existing and to maintain race participation numbers. Greyhounds that do not participate in the greyhound racing industry have a life expectancy of between 12 and 15 years. For the industry’s greyhounds, the life expectancy is often far shorter. Many are put down before the age of 4½ years. That is another systemic blight on the industry. Over the past 12 years approximately 97,783 greyhounds were whelped in New South Wales. The McHugh report found, after taking into consideration a multitude of factors, that up to 68,000 of those dogs had been slaughtered simply because they were either too slow or could no longer pay their way.

    We cannot tolerate an industry that kills that many dogs because they do not make the grade. What was their fate? Appalling brutality and suffering. If they were lucky it was a bullet to the skull and a mass grave; the unlucky ones got baseball bats to the skulls and put into a crab trap and thrown into a river. In the 2014 committee inquiry into the industry evidence was also given that unwanted dogs were drowned, gassed and hung in New South Wales by Australian trainers and breeders.

    From the age of 12 months the training process commences with a “breaking-in” process—sometimes referred to as “education”. Breaking-in involves an intensive form of training during which the animal first learns to chase a lure. In many cases the lure used is a live animal termed “bait”. This widespread and rampant practice has been a criminal offence since 1979. The animal used for bait is often a terrified rabbit, possum, piglet or kitten. It also harms the welfare of those so deeply involved in an industry that has at its fundamental core systemic brutality and cruelty to animals.

    On the Four Corners program we saw—and I saw the complete video—children as young as 10 shown to be unwilling witnesses to this appalling treatment of animals. Members will recall a child being held by the hand and made stand in front of a possum upon which three greyhounds were set. The possum was torn to pieces. This is obviously common practice; how can it be welfare for those people? This bill is not only about the animal issue—dogs, possums, rabbits, piglets, cats, et cetera—but it is also about bringing people into a better way of compassionate living and children not being exposed to brutalities upon animals.

    Since 2007, despite the best efforts of volunteer-run greyhound rescue and rehoming groups across the State, Greyhound Racing NSW has only rehomed 593 greyhounds through its Greyhounds As Pets program, at a cost of $200,000 per year. That is unacceptable. Justice McHugh put it simply when he said:

    The greyhound is simply a gambling instrument, no different from a card in a poker game or a handle on a poker machine.

    This bill is a historic document and one that will end a cruel industry in an ordered manner which I support. I commend Mike Baird for his leadership in reviewing the report and evidence, and making the difficult yet right decision to introduce the bill. I strongly commend the bill to the House.

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